Here! Now What’s Your All Time Top 20 Album Covers?

One could wonder why make a top twenty list about album covers now that people are buying less and less records, and prefer to listen to an unlimited variety of songs on the Internet. Or, one could stay that, for this exact reason, it is the perfect time to talk about albums.

More often than not, I find myself listening to albums rather than playlists. Albums have overarching themes, a distinct style, and an atmosphere that give direction to the music and tie everything together. The order of the songs is carefully planned so they flow perfectly from one to the other. Listening to an album means getting the whole artistic experience, every vibe, every symbol, every feeling the band wanted to convey. And the cover is the final touch, the icing on the cake. Translating an entire musical experience into an image, a single image, can not be the easy task.

I want to do my part and salute artists who care enough to produce beautiful and memorable covers. So what do you say, let’s bring albums back to the forefront, and the front of albums at the forefront of discussions : the album cover, a forgotten piece of art.

Once again, don’t expect the usual top 20 list… although it’s not completely out there either. And don’t hesitate to comment and share your own choices! Mine keep changing anyway.

#20. Frank Zappa, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

Now there’s a good combination! This brilliant and hilarious droodle (doodle + riddle) by Roger Price is the perfect cover for Zappa’s 1982 release. Listening to Zappa’s intricate wacky cool song at the same time is just perfect, and completely trippy. Once again, here’s proof that you don’t need big production, just a really clever and fitting concept.

#19. London Howlin’ Wolf Session

Looking at that cover, I feel suddently immersed in the 70s. I’m walking by in my funky elephant pants, and I see these guys hanging out on a sunny day in London. Perhaps Howlin’ Wolf or Clapton starts stroking his guitar, and a nice vibe starts to flow around. Yeah… I really miss the “organic” feel of pencil drawings, now that images are always generated by computers. These “real” drawings feel warmer somehow.

#18. The Ramones, The Ramones

A simple concept that fit this debut album perfectly : The Ramones, in black and white, standing against a brick wall. Four guys in their leather coats and blue jeans, standing around unimpressed. So… what makes it special? It’s all in the attitude.

#17. The Wailers, Burnin’

Burnin’ is the last album by the original Wailers, and on the cover, there’s an illustration of their faces “burned” into wooden planks. All six of them, in a bouquet, like the six sides of the Wailers. The result is splendid, and once again, there’s an “organic” feel here that I appreciate a lot.

#16. Weezer, Pinkerton

What a superb 19th century japanese print by Hiroshige, taken out of the illustrious series Fifty-Three Stations of Tokaido. As pretty as this scenery is, with its nice contrast between the black night and the white snow, it’s still a cold and lonely landscape… Indeed, things don’t turn out too well for the unpleasant Pinkerton, or for the Weezer guys as far as I can tell from the unfortunate encounters depicted in these songs.

#15. Eric’s Trip, Love Tara

A young couple in the corner behind the stage, lost in a heartfelt hug, unrecognizable from their 90’s style long hair mixing together. This lovely black and white cover by indie alternative band Eric’s Trip looks just like the album sounds : genuine, relatable, moving… with lots of distortion! Ah, the energetic and uncompromising feelings of youth…

#14. Led Zeppelin, Four Symbols

This artwork is actually an oil painting, affixed on a degraded wall. I read it’s supposed to reflect the contrast between country and city. So the country is represented by a picturesque landscape, while the city is represented by a wall with peeling paint… But is it really a painting, or is it a window?…

#13. Janis Joplin, 18 Essential Songs

This is one of the best pictures of Janis that I know of, a spectacular image, and a great choice for an “Essentials” compilation. This cover captures both the intensity and authenticity of Janis’ performance, the singular movements of her body, and the nice lighting effect.

#12. U2, War

This is a remarkable cover. A back and white photo of a naked child, hurt, who’s looking straight into the camera, or straight at us the viewers, with an intense, accusing look. War brings pain, resentment, and loss of innocence.

#11. Nirvana, Nevermind

Here’s another memorable image. Do you remember the impact of that cover in the early 90s? The complete picture shows a naked baby in a shark tank. Someone dangles a one dollar bill in front of him as motivation. After the wild flaky money-crazy 80’s period, Nirvana tore the place down with that cover, which launched the “grunge” period.

#10. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief

Ten years later, Radiohead chose to expose another type of societal peril : over advertising, and the use of fear to control people and increase consumption. Advertisements are indeed attractive, colourful, and this image is very beautiful. But one cannot help but feel discomfort when looking at this carefully. That discomfort is accentuated by the fact that the words are taken out of context, and stacked together like floors of city buildings that eventually fade away and disintegrate like darkish smoke.

#9. Nina Simone, Fodder on my Wings

What a beautiful and somewhat unsettling painting by Gabriel Jarnier, meant for a truly unique artist.  The level of detail, the choice of colours, and the elegance of it all, it’s quite impressive. Jazz legend Nina Simone is a tragic queen, but an undeniable queen nevertheless.

#8. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

This album cover is a piece of art by Efram Wolff, which brilliantly shows Stevie Wonder, who became blind shortly after birth, as someone who can perhaps see better than most people. This is of course in connection with this album’s socially charged lyrics. This artwork has a special warm sunny aura about it too.

#7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung

This famous Burton Silverman painting on the cover of the no less famous (and rather epic) Aqualung album is amazing for several reasons. The realism of the scene, the precise and haunting look in the man’s eyes, his body shape and arm position leaving the spectator to wonder… Silverman and Jethro Tull managed to created a character, a very intriguing character, to illustrate the story being told in the Aqualung song. That’s quite an added value for an album.

#6. The Beatles, Abbey Road

Legend has it that photographer Ian Macmillan had just a few minutes to take this picture, while a cop was stalling trafic… How nice it is to be stars. This image is wicked cool. But it inspired the wildest of theories and drove people completely mad (notably one interpretation that the real MacCartney had died and been replaced by an impostor… What? can’t you see the clues on the cover?). That’s quite an achievement for a cover!

#5.The Clash, London Calling

This photograph is a punk classic. Raw and pure intensity, live from a punk show! The Clash’s bassist is caught right before everything goes flying. Time is standing still, and we hold our breath. Apparently, Simonon smashed his bass because bouncers wouldn’t let people stand up out of their seats. I wouldn’t have expected people to sit still either, but I think I would have kept my bass. 😉

#4. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine

Forceful. Troubling. Unforgettable. This Pulitzer-winning picture of a Vietnamese buddist monk self-immolating to protest oppression can be found on a debut album, Rage Against the Machine’s debut. What a fierce, daring, and loud debut. Yes, Rage’s arrival on the american musical scene was anything but quiet, and the band clearly let us know, with this cover, how it was gonna be with them starting right now.

#3. The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico

This is the classic amongst classics. Andy Warhol’s image of a simple yellow banana, on the cover of the enigmatic and atmospheric Velvet Underground’s debut album, has fascinated fans for generations. “Peel slowly and see”, it said, as people uncovered a skin-coloured banana underneath… Once again, a great fit between the songs and the cover artwork.

#2. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Ziggy Stardust, beamed down from another planet at 3 AM, straight into an american back alley. Standing there over a pile of cardboard boxes, in a dominating pose, debonair, yet ready to show us his monstrous alien power with a powerful powerchord… Utter genius.

#1. Pink Floyd, for their cumulative body of works!

And there’s plenty more where that came from! Thank you, Pink Floyd, for your obvious interest in visual arts, for the time and effort you put in your musical and visual arrangements, and for your complex and sometimes quite disconcerting images!

Amazing Movie Soundtrack : Juno

I was certainly among the target audience for this refreshing little indie soundtrack, which includes songs from some classic indie bands like Velvet Inderground, Belle and Sebastian, and Sonic Youth, as well as music acts I didn’t know about like Kimya Dawson, The Moldy Peaches, Antsy Pants, Mateo Messina, Barry Louis Polisar, … The songs flow very well, from one to another, which create this 45-minute-long smooth indie atmosphere that’s perfect for all kinds of moments. Daily life is nicely complemented, and embellished, by a nice little soundtrack.

I enjoyed this album as much as I enjoyed the refreshing movie itself, which won best original screenplay at the 2008 Oscars. Yes, it’s hilarious.

My favorite song on this album is definitely “Expectations” by Belle and Sebastian, but I have already posted a link to it  (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/i-want-to-go-to-a-belle-and-sebastian-show/). I have also already posted a link to Sonic Youth’s “Superstar” (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/superstar-carpenters-vs-sonic-youth/). So, here are a few good songs on that record that are perhaps not as well-known : “Piazza, New York Catcher” by Belle and Sebastian, “Vampire” by Antsy Pants, “Up the Spout” by Mateo Messina, and “Anybody Else but You” by The Moldy Peaches.

Don’t wait til you’re feeling sinister to listen to this Belle and Sebastian album!

My first language is French, so the first time I heard that a Scottish indie band took the name Belle and Sebastian, and that it came from an “obscure” French childrens’ book/anime, I was amused because I knew that TV show well (it’s a cute story about a friendship between a boy and his dog).

I was looking through my best friend’s CD collection one day and I saw several Belle and Sebastian albums. I was intrigued, started to listen to “If You’re Feeling Sinister” and it was a revelation. While those dreadful boy bands and girl bands were dominating the scene in the late 90’s, there were still bands like this popping up? Must… have… more. So I bought their two other CDs from the 90’s period, “Tigermilk” and “The Boy With the Arab Strap” – both awesome.

But there’s something special about “If You’re Feeling Sinister”. The CD is wonderful to listen to from beginning to end, it really creates an atmosphere. Lots of smooth guitar playing, and the moments when other instruments appear out of nowhere really add to the songs, like the trumpet in the middle of “The Star of Track and Field”. I love the piano in “Seeing Other People”. “Like Dylan in the Movies” is addictive. I could go on and on.

Another great winter album! This warm and soothing musical experience is perfect for curling up on the sofa with a book and a glass of wine, but it fits just as well for an evening with a few friends, or a simple walk in the snow. Yes, I restrained myself from putting links to the whole album, so enjoy a few tunes!

A new album for Arcade Fire, so how about going back to…

…Funeral! Since everyone is talking about their new songs, I will gladly take you back to this beautiful debut CD which was like a drug to me. In the early 2000s, I had a radio show at the university and everyone was putting that record on the air. I liked it right away, but apparently, it can grow on you too (my punk/rock/ska/metal loving spouse is really into it now).

By the way, if you buy one or two songs online, you will unfortunately not get the awesome experience of listening to this CD all the way through (artists put in a lot of effort to create an ambiance for their album you know).

Here’s the Neighbourhood 1 – Tunnels video.

I want to go to a Belle and Sebastian show

There was one a few months ago in Montréal and I missed it. I have the band’s three 90’s albums and I never get tired of them.

Here’s a little taste. Enjoy three cool live performances: from the “Tigermilk” album, here’s the song “Expectations” (an all-time favorite!), from the “If you’re feeling sinister” album, here’s “Judy and the dream of horses”, and from “The Boy with the arab strap”, here’s “Sleep the clock around”.